Dark Sun and the Challenge of the Arena

Over the last few weeks my group had experienced a little turbulence as schedules were changing, finals were happening for some – so a foray into the gladiatorial scene felt appropriate as it wasn’t hard to explain a few character absences. I made a point of advising the group that the day’s games were set to end with a special execution match. For the last fight I wanted to do something interesting, something with a twist. I agonized over it during my prep time, and in the final hour I still hadn’t come up with anything. I had a complete lack of ideas. Resigned, I settled on stats for a captured band of eladrin being executed for ambushing some Tyrian templars, an angry crowd hazard, and some 3D tiles.

On the day of the game I sat down to the table and started laying out my map, 3D tiles, and minis. My gaze happened to fall on the trapped chest mini in my minis box. Something in my brain clicked and I picked it out and purposefully set it on top of the raised platform. This action immediately drew everyone’s attention.

In one of the old Dark Sun novels the main characters (best friends) are captured, enslaved, and forced to fight each other in the gladiatorial arena. In the final fight the sorcerer-king Kalak announces that whoever wins the fight by killing the other will be set free. I wanted to use this same sort of back-handed “generosity” and in that instant I had spied the chest mini I knew how I wanted to implement an example of cruel justice on Athas.

I explained to the group that the “no coup-de-grace” rule was suspended for this execution match. To make things exciting, the chest contained an official pardon: just one. If one of the eladrin retrieved the pardon, the party was not allowed to attack that person and that eladrin could freely leave the arena. The remaining eladrin still have to be executed for their crimes. Inversely, if one of the party members retrieved the pardon, the eladrin could still attack them. The group loved it and I set out a few more rules during the encounter.

  • The chest could be picked up as a minor action. I decided moving the chest generally made the fickle crowd angry as they would perceive it as “cheating” even though there was no rule against it.
  • Once picked up, the chest could be held with one hand. Forced movement does not break the enemy’s hold on it. (For some reason my players wanted to treat holding the chest like a grapple and kept trying to “break” the hold with pushes and slides.)
  • The chest was locked and it was a standard action to unlock it but this couldn’t be done if an enemy was adjacent to you. Presumably the enemy would be making every attempt to kill you or otherwise disrupt unlocking the chest.
  • Once unlocked, it was another minor action to pick up the scroll of pardon inside it. Similarly, I ruled this couldn’t be done if an enemy was adjacent to you as they would obviously try to stop you, try to snatch it, etc. This also meant the item was not ‘unattended’ for the purposes of mage hand.

The Combat
The eladrin got to the chest first but, having spent their actions for extra move, they could not open or take the chest. The party caught up and gained advantage quickly. One character stole the chest and took it to their far end of the arena – provoking the crowd’s wrath who began to throw clay mugs at the offender. Another party member took the chest back to the platform and regained the crowd’s favor.

The eladrin used smart tactics: the soliders held the platform while the archers stayed back and used their longbow rapid shot to start dealing some serious damage. They defended the chest while their leader advanced and tried to take the chest. She didn’t last long and was coup-de-graced much to the crowd’s delight. Without their leader, the eladrin switched from holding back the attackers to ‘every eladrin for himself’ mode. They stole the chest and withdrew to the opposite end of the arena. The angry crowd was now so upset that several angry brawlers climbed out of the stands and tackled one of the archers. I didn’t have stats on hand for the angry mob that was supposed to join the fight. Instead I plunked down some minis and treated them as minions with an AC 16 and a +6 vs AC, 5 damage attack. The eladrin got enough space to finally open the chest, but the party closed in again before they could take the scroll.

The party’s monk went unconscious three times as the archers began to focus fire on him for being the closest enemy but the halfling ardent got him back up with excellent heals twice and the third time he rolled an amazing natural 20 on his death save and got to spend a healing surge. It was very fun for me roleplaying the furious eladrin archers. “That stubborn mul just won’t die!” The mul warden and the thri-kreen battlemind kept the eladrin soliders back while the dray mage stayed on the platform firing magic missiles everywhere. The eladrin finally went down one by one and the dray took the scroll out of the chest while I described the crowd cheering wildly.

It was the best arena fight I had run. If I could’ve done it again, I would have made sure to lay out all the rules about the chest in advance, maybe in handouts for the players. I also would have included some simple skill checks for opening the chest or for stealing the scroll from another person. My group will be moving on to some new adventures and leaving the city of Tyr after this, but I have the arena poster map and I intend to get my money’s worth out of it. I will definately have the group revisit the arena in the future. I would love to comments about other interesting scenarios put into gladiatorial style encounters!

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